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The low down of the Brecon Beacons..
Running east to west across south Wales lie a range of hills that stand like frozen waves. Their northerly facing slopes are steep and proud over the plains of Mid-Wales, whereas their southern slopes are gentler angles of moorland which drop down into the hills of the Welsh valleys and eventually Cardiff and the Severn Estuary.
Due to the geology and glaciology of the area, as you walk north you walk over rocks that get progressively older, so that from the southern to the northern edges of the National Park you cross 100 million years of earth’s history.
The Brecon Beacons National Park is separated into three distinct parts. In the centre are the true Beacons, the peaks surrounding the highest point in southern Britain, Pen y Fan. They are characterised by narrow northern ridges and more open plateau in the south, with equally steep descents into the glacial bowls on both sides. In the east lie the Black Mountains, separated from the Beacons by the River Usk and containing a long stretch of the border with England along Offa’s Dyke. Though the Black Mountains lack the narrow ridges of the Beacons, the drops into the valleys can still be steep, and the northern face appears just as abruptly, as a great wall of rock and grass.
In the western region of the National Park is the Black Mountain, easily confused with it’s namesake in the east. This area is different again, centred around the fantastic wedge-shaped mountain of Fan Brycheiniog and its satellites. Away to the east and south of the long line of cliffs that makes up the northern aspect of Fan Brycheiniog is a vast tract of open moor, dotted with crags and drained by a web-like network of streams. This is truly a place to wander and get away from it all, and possibly the remotest area of south Wales.
For the walker there are a number of possibilities. The classic walks for those in the area for the first time centre around Pen y Fan in the centre of the park, taking in the peaks of the Beacons via any one of the many ridges. For those looking to go further east and see a more pastoral country, the beautiful Vale of Ewylas or the Usk Valley itself have a number of possibilities to get up into the Black Mountains. And for those who are more keen for the wilder side can head into the Black Mountain in the west; be prepared for some tricky navigation though, as even the marked paths can be confusing at the best of times.
The Brecon Beacons have more to offer than the peaks, and especially in the south there are several woodlands to explore, as well as the famous waterfalls walk from Pontneddfechan. The valleys and glacial bowls between the peaks are excellent places to explore if the weather takes a turn for the worse or you prefer a day lower down, and there are several long distance paths to get stuck into, including the Brecon Beacons Way, the Taff Trail and the Usk Valley Walk.
Whatever your goal, from social walking to long mountain journeys, the Brecon Beacons are a fantastic range of hills and moorland, and lie in a location easy to reach from most of the south of England and Wales. I would even suggest that the Beacons are the closest wilderness to London, so why not come and explore!
Author: Alex Kendall
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